By Mary Ellen Mitchell, Lydia’s House co-director
As I reflect on the last year, first I’m grateful for the opportunity to be in leadership here at Lydia’s House and to have my work and family so integrated in this experiment in shared life and community. Our children are better for it; our days are more meaningful. As such, perhaps the piece of life that stood out most boldly for the Mitchell-Eilerman contingent of this operation was this operation, with Lydia’s House taking a new role in our family as the employer of both me and Ben for 7 months of the year. We collaborated on Virginia Coffey Place, an 8 unit apartment building that the organization bought and Ben led toward rehabilitation. It was totally trashed when we acquired it but I’d long believed the Holy Spirit was leading us to this project. Located on the street we live on, we’d watched it deteriorate and then vacate over a decade. Under Ben’s leadership, with a ton of support from staff and volunteers and donors, it’s now beautiful and not only does it have low income apartments, but also a Montessori preschool and an art studio. Driving past its new facade never gets old, and we actually stop by daily because Jacob is a student at the preschool.
With Jacob in school, I’ve steadily moved into more work hours, and it seems Lydia’s House is evolving into a new phase of organizational development. I’ve increased lobbying and advocacy, gotten to know our reps at every level of government, and Meridith and I participated in larger conversations around family homelessness. We hired our Occupational Therapist, Laura, almost full time and hired a maternal care advocate/ doula. These people also have become companions in the journey, befriending Ben and the kids and sharing prayer and reflections on day to day life. Meridith, of course, remains a cornerstone, and is also like an aunt/ sister/ spiritual guru to us all. Together we also have many-years of relationship that have grown and changed with our original Lydia’s House families, some of whom now attend school with Jacob or live on our street.
Fall brought some change for us with Virginia Coffey Place complete. We started to discuss Ben’s next steps and within weeks he was offered a job at Over the Rhine Community Housing. It was an organic progression, with Ben still supporting homeless families but now in an organization that owns over 400 units. He is working with kindred spirits and has an office near downtown, which he loves. He’s focused on putting housing on-line for the very poor, doing more real estate development/ less architecture.
Our neighborhood relationships have grown in complex and good ways. Behind us will soon be Jacob’s best friend and former Lydia’s House baby, JoJo, whose adopted parents rehabbed an abandoned property. Next door to us, Ben helped our friend/ former LH live in volunteer Anne upgrade a house and it is now beautiful, complete with bold colored walls and carefully chosen art. Jacob visits her almost daily and we were happy to welcome her parents for Thanksgiving. The kids put on a talent show in their honor and, while we decided that maybe singing isn’t going to be their thing, their dance moves are pretty awesome and Sam is a budding magician.
Both Annie and Sam are now in Catholic school, which was a hard choice, because we (like many) want to support the local public school. They now attend Good Shepherd Catholic Montessori and while we don’t love the 20 minute commute, we do love the Montessori classroom, hands on math, complex self-chosen projects, and the fabulous religious education using the Catechism of the Good Shepherd. Religion is actually Sam’s favorite class (truth), and he’s preparing for first communion. Annie loves recess on the giant hill and runs a “stick and dye shop.” She takes it pretty seriously and gives daily updates. She’s also enjoyed studying the revolutionary war and continues her interest (obsession) with Harry Potter and Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
After we realized there was no way that 5 of us could camp in the VW camper that we’d had since pre-marriage, we sold it. Sadness. In the search for her replacement we finally landed on a tiny “Wolf Pup” that sleeps 5 and has a bathroom. Our mini-van can haul it! We did an interior rehab, because that’s what we do, and it now has a pink door and floral print curtains and leather cushions. It looks good. We took it on a long trip to Michigan which was fun and also a needed family getaway after an intense spring work-wise. We’d never been to Michigan and we spent over 2 weeks swimming in cold lakes, eating soft serve, climbing sand dunes and thinking “why haven’t we come here every summer?” Over the course of the trip our friends Laura Menze and the Doans met us at stops, which was a nice way to break up the kids getting bored with each other.
Summer also included a weekend camping trip to visit Underground Railroad sites in Ripley Ohio, the Catholic Worker reunion in Bloomington, Episcopal Family Camp with Lydia’s House Families, and Annie’s total favorite: Camp Joy. If I had to predict what she’ll do as an adult, I’d say she’ll be working at Camp Joy.
This year marks 11 years of marriage for me and Ben; Sam is 7, Annie turned 10 (!!) and Jacob is 3. 2019 felt like something… some kind of shift or mile-marker where I looked back and thought “Ben and I have built a good life, here in Norwood, at Lydia’s House, at our church, with extended family, and with friends that feel like family.” Not everything was/is idyllic—our personal house is often a mess, Sam broke his arm this spring, we got head lice at a camp, working together as a couple was challenging. Mostly though, we’re happy with this life we’ve chosen/constructed/ been gifted.
Anyway, may this serve as an update of the behind the scenes, and we hope to bring you some more personal reflections on 2019 throughout January.
If you’re reading from far away, come visit! We’d love to share some local pizza on a Friday night or take you to Sam’s favorite magic store or put on a talent show with no singing.
Mary Ellen (on behalf of the Mitchell-Eilerman crew)